Final effort to save court building
- Published: 5/01/2013 at 05:28 PM
- Online news:
BANGKOK: The Fine Arts Department has filed a police complaint attempting to halt the demolition that began three weeks ago of the old Supreme Court building.
Before-and-after images show how the new Supreme Court complex would tower over its neighbours. Conservationists argue that it will lessen the aesthetic value of the Grand Palace next door.
Department officials say the court building, located in the historic Rattanakosin area of Bangkok, was designated a national historical site in 2009. However, the designation was never formally registered.
Next week activists under the banner of the Network of City Planners for Society will seek a temporary halt to the demolition from the Administrative Court and the National Human Rights Commission.
The Supreme Court compound met all the definitions in the 1961 Historical Buildings Act related to age, architectural style and history, Fine Arts Department director-general Sahawat Naenna said.
The court insists it has the right to replace the 74-year-old structure with a new, much bigger office, based on a cabinet resolution passed in 1988.
The demolition is expected to take three to four months.
ERASING HISTORY: Demolition of the 74-year-old Supreme Court building began on Dec 20 and is expected to take three to four months.
The department acknowledged that it did not oppose the original 1988 decision but things have changed now that the building has been designated a historic site.
It sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Aug 31, 2009 seeking permission to review the building's status, said Mr Sahawat, who filed the department's complaint with Chanasongkram police on Saturday.
The technical committee on preservation, which comprised former and current Fine Arts Department chiefs, is the authority that considers registration of historical buildings.
Even though the building is not formally registered, any action to modify, change or demolish the structure requires permission from the Fine Arts Department, said Mr Sahawat.
"Technically, premises that get expert evaluation scores of one to two are already considered a historical building, but if it gets a score of 4, the entity will be categorised as a national heritage site. [The Supreme Court) building got a 3.54 score," said Mr Sahawat.
After marathon consultations between the department and the Supreme Court Office, the demolition began on Dec 20, prompting the Department to send a letter asking for the halt and demanding the Supreme Court Office seek permission first.
Maliporn Kumgasem, head of the department's legal division, said Article 10 of the Historical Building Act stipulated that the department head has authority to halt the demolition of a registered historical relic or building.
But for a site that has not been registered, the department could only file a complaint to the police to enforce the Historical Building Act, said Ms Maliporn.
"This is not the first time that the department has been in dispute with government agencies but it is the first case in which a disputing agency has ignored our request," she said.
The Act calls for fines of up to 700,000 baht and/or jail terms up to seven years for those who damage an unregistered historical building. The penalties increase to one million baht and/or 10 years in jail for damage to a registered building.
"We had to file the complaint with the Chanasongkram Police Station. Since we checked with them on Dec 25 and 27 and Jan 2 and 3 and the demolition was still continuing, the department therefore needs to file the case with police officers," she said.
Bovornvate Rungruji, a Culture Ministry inspector-general, said the court building, built in 1939 by the Pibulsonggram government, was a symbol of modernity and judicial sovereignty.
Traditionalists have frequently expressed their dislike for the public buildings erected by the Pibulsonggram government. Like the Supreme Court offices, many feature the "modern international" architectural style popular in that era. The style has come to be closely associated with fascist regimes in the 1930s in Europe.
Barry J. Schieber, a fine arts expert with the Guna Foundation, said Thailand, particularly Bangkok, had an outstanding record for cultural and historical heritage preservation. Therefore, it should not risk leaving the legacy for the next generation only of mega-department stores and not symbolic historical premises.
"If architectural heritage [buildings] are symbols of democratisation, citizens should try to preserve them," he said. "If it is the Supreme Court building which the public perceives as showing the integrity of the judicial independence, it should be even stronger [motivation] for people to want to keep it as national pride."
Paranee Sawatdirak, of the Social Network of City Planners, said the dispute was not just between the Fine Arts Department and the Judiciary, as the surrounding community and national heritage had to be taken into account.
The new structure planned by the court would dwarf many of the other public buildings in the historic Rattanakosin area.
"When a normal environmental assessment is conducted, the surrounding vicinity needs to be taken into account. The judges cannot think only about [what's behind] their own fence," said Ms Paranee.
The judiciary, she said, should be a leading social pillar showing transparency and accountability to other stakeholders.
The new court building has been designed in the style of modern Thai architecture.
Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an architecture lecturer at Silpakorn University, has noted that the new building would breaches the building control code, which sets a 16-metre height limit for any new buildings in inner Rattanakosin.
He has also cited a study on the courthouse's safety by architecture lecturers from Chulalongkorn University. The study, commissioned by the court itself, said renovation would more cost-effective than building a new structure, which would cost more than 2 billion baht.
About the author
- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat